Harford to use `blue boxes' on handcuffs to foil escapes

February 08, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,sun reporter

The escape of a Harford County inmate last month could have been prevented with a device that costs $20, county authorities said.

The county sheriff's office has purchased two dozen "blue boxes" - plastic-and-metal devices placed over handcuff chains to restrict wrist movement - in response to the Jan. 24 escape of Terrence Kasses Washington.

"It's so simple; it's also so ingenious," said Lt. James Eyler, a sheriff's spokesman. "There should be no way that you would be able to mechanically defeat the locking mechanisms on the handcuffs."

The sheriff's office also is looking to equip seven transport vehicles with security cameras and computer screens, Eyler said. The technology would allow officers to monitor inmates sitting in the back during transport, he said.

Washington, 31, who has been charged in car thefts and bank robberies in different states, had been awaiting trial at the Harford County Detention Center in Bel Air.

After complaining of stomach pains in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 24, Washington was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in a Ford Crown Victoria. During the six-minute trip, Washington slipped out of handcuffs, leg irons and a belly chain. When two officers opened the car's back door at the hospital, Washington ran into a nearby woods, authorities said.

Washington, who has also escaped authorities in Arkansas and Louisiana, is still on the loose.

Authorities have found stolen cars in Harford County, Virginia and Alabama that they believe were used by Washington, said a spokeswoman for the FBI, which is handling the search with U.S. marshals. The fugitive was last traced to Auburn, Ala.

Police do not know how Washington slipped out of the restraints.

Experts say that blue boxes make handcuffs nearly impossible for inmates to unlock.

The box, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, connects each cuff and covers the keyhole. It can also be applied so that an inmate's hands are facing opposite directions, making it harder to maneuver.

The sheriff's office paid Hiatt-Thompson Corp. $500 for 25 of the devices, which will be used on high-risk inmates during transport, Eyler said. The office is soliciting bids for the videos and computer screens, which would be purchased with money from this year's budget, Eyler said

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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